by Scott Weinberg
When you think about the modern classics of the action genre, you're talking mainly about movies that were huge hits before being ripped off, sequelized, and essentially cannibalized to death in a non-stop barrage of low-minded carnage and pointless explosions.Movies like Lethal Weapon, First Blood, Die Hard, Robocop, Predator, The Terminator, and of course Speed have been ransacked (quite often by the original filmmakers desperate for a quick cash transfusion) to the point of absurdity, and it creates a back-handed compliment of sorts. A few great films get lumped in among a gaggle of lesser films and outright hack jobs. (Iím of the opinion that if Die Hard, Robocop, First Blood, Speed, and Lethal Weapon had never spawned their generally obnoxious sequels, these films would be remembered as true modern classics - as opposed to simply being considered 'good action flicks'.)
"Solid action flick; fantastic DVD presentation from Fox' Five-Star Division"
I came up with this theory while discussing Speed with a few friends. "Is that the one with the boat?" one of them asked me before the other responded with "No, that's Under Siege, man." It took both of them about seven movies (including a few bizarre choices like Down Periscope and Species) before they remembered the bit about "the bus that couldnít slow down" and responded that 'yeah, that one was pretty good, too'. Well, maybe I just have some really dumb friends, but itís a shame that Speed could ever be mistaken for Passenger 57 or (gasp) Speed 2. (I think maybe it's just the 'two dumb friends' theory.)
Fortunately, you can now appreciate the kinetic brilliance of Jan de Bont's Speed in glorious DVD fashion, as Fox Home Video has returned to this title and spruced it up with their swanky (and always-satisfying) "Five-Star Collection". (Those familiar with the Five-Star treatment Fox gave to movies like Independence Day, Die Hard, and The French Connection will no doubt be salivating to get their hands on this fantastic 2-disc set.) Aside from the addictively entertaining movie, this package delivers a stunning amount of goodies to pick through. Fans of special features will have a field day with this set, but the movie's the thing.
Speed is not about elaborate or deep storytelling:
Act I - SWAT agents Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) butt heads with Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), a manic ex-cop who effectively holds an elevator full of hostages. Quick thinking, dumb luck, and outright balls prevent Howard from claiming any lives, and the evil bastard apparently blows himself up while attempting escape. Jack and Harry are heroes, right up until...
Act II - While enjoying his morning coffee, Jack watches as a city bus explodes in a fiery inferno. As the fireball dies down, the confused agent hears a pay-phone ringing... itís Payne! Heís alive after all! Not only has the aggravated terrorist just killed an innocent bus driver, but heís also rigged another bus to go boom. The hook - one of the most satisfyingly simple hooks in the history of modern action flicks - is that the bus must stay above 50 miles per hour if it wants to remain earthbound. Jack gets onto the bus and meets up with the quirky Annie (Sandra Bullock) who must take control of the careening bus when the suitable driver ends up on the wrong end of a wayward bullet. All sorts of illogical - yet cinematically delicious - cliffhangers and close calls pop up, before weíre jettisoned off to...
Act III - Jack and Annie find themselves aboard an out-of-control subway car while Payne cackles maniacally and threatens to blow everyone to kingdom come.
The plotline may be a bit skimpy, but everything else in Speed screams quality. The numerous action sequences are crisp, massive and altogether invigorating, Mark Mancinaís score is urgent and exciting, the acting performances are uniformly satisfying (yes, even Keanu), and the screenplay displays some wit without overdoing the cutesy stuff. (Iíll admit that the whole "Pop Quiz, Hotshot" schpiel got a bit tiresome after a while, but Sandy Bullock balances that mild deficiency - and a few others - with her entirely adorable presence.)
If Speed seems to lack a certain rational logic or sense of actual reality... well, thatís because it does. You can gripe all you like about how a bus could never jump a fifty-foot chasm, or that a bus could never stay over 50mph while slamming into 25 cars in succession, but then youíd be robbing yourself of the sheer mindless joy of a movie like Speed. If I want to see a forum in which physics always apply, Iíll look out my front window. For pure gee-whiz movie mayhem, very few action flicks speed along like, well, Speed. Not only is this flick (de Bont's debut, and easily his finest effort) a taut and wonderfully-crafted adventure thriller, but Speed has some of the highest 'rewatchability factor' I've ever witnessed in an action flick.
Great action movie in a superlative new DVD package. It's at this point that I'd usually say "Speed out to get it!", but I respect my readers more than that. If you dig this movie half as much as I do, youíll want to own this DVD.The "Five Star Collection" DVD Special Features includes: Full-length audio commentaries: Track 1 with director Jan de Bont; Track 2 with producer Mark Gordon and screenwriter Graham Yost. "Action Sequences": Bus Jump Featurette (9:37), Metrorail Crash Featurette (6:17), Five Interactive Multi-Stream Storyboards, Four Interactive Multi-Angle Stunt Presentations, Inside Speed: On Location Featurette (7:17), Stunts Featurette (12:08), Visual Effects Featurette (9:13), Original Screenplay (text), Production Design (text w/artwork), Interview Archive: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Dennis Hopper, Jan de Bont, Image Gallery: Hundreds of photos sorted by scene and category, Promoting Speed: Trailer, ten TV spots, HBO First Look (24:09), Billy Idolís "Speed" Music Video, Press Kit Production notes
Easter Egg: Alternate "airline version" of the bus explosion. Accessible through the DVD credits screen.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=756&reviewer=128
originally posted: 05/04/04 10:45:23